Friday, July 23, 2021

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Old Mother West Wind by Thornton Burgess (1910)

Old Mother West Wind has several children known as the Merry Little Breezes, who love to involve themselves in the affairs of the animals who live in and around the forest, including:  Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, Bobby Coon, Little Joe Otter, Grandfather Frog, Billy Mink, Jerry Muskrat, and Spotty the Turtle. As these animals interact with each other and with the Breezes, the reader is treated to many gentle adventures, most of which have a bit of a moral at the end. 

My husband read Old Mother West Wind aloud to my oldest as a toddler, but when I tried it with my second daughter she wasn't a fan. It wasn't until now, with daughter number three (E, age 3.5) that I actually read the entire book. Unlike her older sister, E. really enjoyed entering the world of these animals and observing their activities.

For me, a reader who doesn't love animal stories, it was not my favorite read-aloud, but I did appreciate that the chapters were short enough to hold my young listener's attention and that it was very easy to sort out right and wrong actions taken by the animals in each story. For a book that is over 100 years old, much of it is still relatable to preschoolers who are starting to really understand how to interact with others for the first time. They can explore various social situations vicariously through these animals, and then apply those lessons to real life. 

Old Mother West Wind is a great first chapter book to read aloud, and I plan to keep it in my preschool curriculum for when the twins reach this stage in the hopes that it will resonate with one or both of them as well. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (2008)

The Mysterious Benedict Society is the story of four gifted kids - Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance - who are handpicked by Nicholas Benedict to infiltrate a school called the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, which is attempting to control minds through subliminal messages sent out through various forms of media. Using their various strengths, the four characters work together even in the face of great danger to bring down the mastermind of these messages, Ledroptha Curtain. 

I read this as part of a discussion group on Instagram but wound up not really participating in the discussion. Whereas the other members seemed to love the book, I really thought it was just okay. I didn't like a lot of things about it: the fact that so many character names had not-so-hidden meanings, for example, and also the plot's reliance on coincidences and unknown family connections that just happen to be revealed at convenient moments. It felt like this book was trying really hard to be clever and really wanted me to notice its cleverness, while I wanted it to be much more subtle. 

In terms of content, I have no objection to my kids reading this book. My husband read it, and though he didn't like the ending, he still bought a copy, and it's here in our homeschool library if any of our kids want to pick it up. For me, though, I'm most likely done with this series. It's not the type of book I typically like, and there was nothing especially amazing about this specific book to make it an exception for me. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Book Review: The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)

The Four-Story Mistake is the second book in the Melendys series by Elizabeth Enright, following The Saturdays (1941). In this book, Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver, along with their father and Cuffy and Willy Sloper, move from New York City to a country house known as the Four-Story Mistake. The house has some architectural anomalies that give it its name, but it's the perfect home for these four children. While World War II rages on elsewhere, the Melendy kids enjoy a year of indoor and outdoor adventures, including the uncovering of a secret about their new home. 

I happened to be reading this book aloud to my kids during our visit to my mother-in-law. It was such a surprise to all of us when she recognized the story and told us this had been her favorite book as a child. After we finished the book, I could absolutely see why. Even more so than in The Saturdays, in this book these child characters come fully to life. They and my kids may be separated by decades, but their interests - in nature, in drama, in secrets, and in imagination - are as similar as can be. The fact that a war is taking place also gives the book a bittersweetness, and for the adult reader, there is a strong feeling of nostalgia and an awareness that childhood is fleeting. 

This is the quintessential realistic fiction book and it was a lovely read-aloud for my older three girls ages 3, 5, and 7. I had originally not really planned to finish out the series, but this book has changed my mind completely. This was a very strong five-star read and I look forward to reading it aloud again when the twins are old enough to enjoy it. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Reading Through History: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1960)

Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of Karana, a young Native American girl who, after a series of very difficult events, is left to live alone on her family's island off the coast of California in the 1840s. The novel describes the life she builds for herself and explores the challenges and joys of living so closely with nature with only animal companionship.

I never read this book as a kid because I almost never read any historical fiction as a kid. A few years ago I read O'Dell's The Captive (1979), and it was so dark and depressing that I wondered whether I could ever stomach another book by him, and I continued avoiding this one. Thankfully, though, a reading challenge that cropped up on Instagram this summer required a book set on an island, and I was finally encouraged to pick this one up. I listened to the audiobook, and though survival stories are not my favorite genre, there is undoubtedly something special about this book.

From the beginning, the writing is simply beautiful. I have images in my mind of scenes from this book that I can still replay in vivid detail weeks after finishing the story. O'Dell is not a flowery, purple writer, but he has such a strong command of language that he really knows how to paint a picture with just the right number of words. I feel as though I know Karana and have lived alongside her through her experience on the island. 

This is a short book, but it bears a strong impact. It didn't become a personal favorite, but objectively I can absolutely see why it's so beloved and why it won a Newbery. I'll be glad to have my own kids read it in the coming years. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 7/5/21

Morning Read-Alouds

From Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters,  illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018), we read "She sells seashells on the seashore," "Inside a Shell" by John Foster, "Five Little Peas," and "The Back Step" by Lee Knowles. 

From A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1933) we read poems entitled: "Christopher Columbus," "Indian," "Hernando de Soto," "Peregrine White and Virginia Dare," "Pocahontas," "Miles Standish," "Pilgrims & Puritans," "Peter Stuyvesant," "Southern Ships and Settlers," "Cotton Mather," "Captain Kidd," "French Pioneers," "Oliver DeLancey," and "George Washington." 

Our picture book author for the week was Charlotte Zolotow. Grandma read The Seashore Book to the girls before we left New York, and I read The Storm Book at home. We also watched some videos of Zolotow's daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon, reading aloud her mother's books, Someday and One Step Two.

We read several articles from National Geographic Explorer magazine Volume 19, Number 2 (Pathfinder edition): "The Galapagos Islands," "Islands Born of Fire," "Home Only Here," and "Darwin."


We learned to sing "Home on the Range" from Go In and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook for Young People (The Metropolitian Museum of Art, 1987). 

We listened to Tritsch-Tratsch Polka by Johann Strauss Jr, Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, maman" by Mozart, and  L'Arlésienne Suite: "Farandole" by Georges Bizet. 


This week's painting was the Mona Lisa. We studied the card from the Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing and watched the SmartHistory video about the painting.


M. and C. started learning the questions and answers in Lesson 7: "Jesus Opens Heaven For Us" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism.

Memory Work

E. recited the months of the year, days of the week, four directions, marks of the church, and continents. She continued to practice "Happiness" by A.A. Milne. 

C recited the 50 states, planets, Great Lakes, countries of Europe, the oceans, the books of the Bible, and our address and phone number. She continued practicing "maggie and milly and molly and may" by e.e. cummings. 

M recited the 50 states, the countries of Asia, the books of the Bible, the Kings and Queens of England, and our address and phone number. She continued to practice Oberon's speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare.  


In the summer, we typically do a quick American history study, so we started that this week. From The Great Heritage by Katherine B. Shippen (Viking Press, 1947), we read "The Great Heritage," "Beavers, Otters, and Furres of Price," and "Men of the Sea." From Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson (Houghton Mifflin, 1941) we read "Stormalong." From American Adventures by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1968), we read "First Adventure." 


M. and C. both did some work in Singapore and Khan Academy every day. C. is still working on multi-digit addition and subtraction. M. is working on algebra basics and time word problems.

Reading and Writing 

M. continued reading Thee, Hannah to Gran, and she also continued reading the Borrowers series. C. started the second Far-Away Tree book. In the evenings, C. and I started reading aloud Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. At dinner, my husband read aloud from The Three Princes of Serendip.

Other Activities

On the way home from New York, we met up with a bookish friend my husband met on Goodreads who has been exchanging letters with M. We had lunch and the kids played on the playground at a park in her neighborhood. 

On Friday, we met up with friends at the Adventure Playground. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

ARC Review: Rosetown Summer by Cynthia Rylant (7/20/2021)

In Rosetown (2018), Flora Smallwood struggled to accept her parents' separation. Now, in Rosetown Summer, her parents have reconciled, but her beloved favorite bookstore, Wings and a Chair, which has been so central to her relationship with her best friend Yury is likely to close, and she can't imagine saying goodbye. As summer wears on, Flora slowly learns to come to terms with change, whether she likes it or not.

In so many of her books, Cynthia Rylant beautifully captures the small moments of everyday life. Rosetown Summer is a quiet, gentle read, but it so deeply expresses the emotions of kids as they navigate the first major disappointments in their lives. There isn't much physical action in this book, but the coziness of the setting and the very real-sounding dialogue made it a page-turner for me nonetheless. I was reminded very much of Rylant's Cobble Street Cousins series, which was a huge favorite with my kids a couple of summers ago, and which also celebrates the joys of small-town living and which also explores the normal lives of regular kids in beautifully written language.

Rosetown wasn't super popular and I'm not seeing a lot of buzz for Rosetown Summer, but for the sensitive and thoughtful young reader, these two books really hit a sweet spot. I would have read and re-read this book as a kid and it would not have mattered to me at all that nothing ever happens. Just escaping into this cozy world for a little while would have been - and still is - enough for me.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: June 2021 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

I read 17 books in June - 4 read-alouds with my kids and 13 for my own enjoyment. Seven were audiobooks, 7 were print books, and 3 were ebooks. Linked book titles below will take you to my reviews. 

I kicked off the month by reading the ebook of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris in one night while we were staying with my mother-in-law. I picked it up to start before bed and just zipped right through it. It's a thriller set in the publishing world, with themes related to race woven into the story. I picked it up because it was in the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide and I really enjoyed its unique style and odd, creepy mood. (4 stars)

Next, I read The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder for book club. I thought I remembered reading and loving this book in college, but after re-reading it, I'm convinced I have it confused with a different book. I could appreciate some of the writing as distinctive, but for a story with a lot of Catholics in it, it didn't have much of a Catholic message. The only good thing I can really say about it is that it was short. (3 stars)

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave was another thriller I picked from the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide, and this one I listened to as an audiobook. The writing was great, and the relationship between the main character and her stepdaughter was the most interesting part of the story for me. The ending felt a little anti-climactic, but it was also believable as a way things might resolve themselves in such a situation in real life. (4 stars) 

My next audiobook was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, which I had never read before. I had a horrible experience years ago reading The Captive by O'Dell, and I was afraid this was going to be dark and depressing in the same way, but it wasn't at all. This is a beautifully written story with vivid descriptions of people and landscapes alike, and I really enjoyed it despite not typically loving survival stories. (4 stars)

Next I listened to Hooked on You by Kathleen Fuller on Hoopla, and that was  a great palate cleanser. It's just a gentle Christian romance set in a small town and it's the first in a series. I'm looking forward to book two in 2022. (3 stars)

With a group on Instagram I read The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. The group loved it. I didn't especially. It was fine, but it had a lot of things I don't like in it - character names with not-so-hidden special meanings, coincidences, puzzles, etc. The writing also felt uneven. In some sections the story flew by. In others, it dragged on endlessly. I also have no interest in the Disney+ adaptation of the book, so that aspect of the discussion was kind of lost on me as well. I'm not sorry I read it, but it was just okay. (3 stars)

I did love The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, which I read aloud to my kids. It presents such a charmed and charming view of childhood, and I loved it even more than The Saturdays. (5 stars) 

Fox's Earth by Anne Rivers Siddons is a Southern gothic family saga spanning several generations. I didn't love it as much as this author's Colony, which I listened to last summer,  but Sally Darling did a fantastic job as the narrator and though the characters were mostly not likable I was riveted by their story. I also loved Rip, the black woman who works for the family at the center of the book who is the only truly good character in the entire book. (4 stars)

I read The Overloaded Ark by Gerald Durrell to satisfy a challenge prompt of a book set in Africa. I'm not an animal person, so a lot of the details about the animals were not that interesting to me, but I liked the stories about humans interacting with animals and with the jungle climate. Durrell is a good writer even if the book felt slow in some places. (3 stars)

My three-year-old and I read Winnie-the-Pooh together, and it was so much fun seeing her meet these characters for the first time. (We don't really do Disney, so she had no prior knowledge.) I think some of the writing style was lost on her at this age, but she loved Piglet, Owl, and Roo, and that made it enjoyable enough for a first read-through. (5 stars)

With my oldest I read aloud Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. It's pretty perfect. I got choked up a little at the end, but I made it through without shedding tears. She loved it and can't wait to read it again. (5 stars)

Another great audiobook pick was Haven Point by Virginia Hume, which is another family saga. This one jumped back and forth in time as it told the stories of three generations of women: one living in 1944, one in 1970, and one in 2008. Normally, alcoholism and WWII would be topics I would avoid in books but this one made both interesting and relatable enough that I was not turned off. (4 stars)

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides was kind of a let-down. I felt like there was a lot of hype surrounding it, and the premise sounded great, but the execution didn't quite work. The audiobook narration was top-notch, however. (3 stars)

Rosetown Summer by Cynthia Rylant was an ARC; the book comes out later in July. It's a sequel to Rosetown, and I might be the only one who loves it, but I loved it. I'm planning a review very soon. (5 stars)

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink was another read-aloud, this time with my 5-year-old who loves babies. She had heard it before when I read it to her older sister, but she had forgotten the story so it was all new to her again. She really enjoyed it. (5 stars) 

My last audiobook of the month was Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews It was well-written, it kept me guessing, and it totally surprised me. It's a debut novel, and I'm hoping for more in the future!  (4 stars)

Finally, I finished the month with the ebook of The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green. I have always liked the way John Green writes even when I haven't liked what he has to say. That was the case with this book. Written during the pandemic, this book is just utterly depressing and devoid of hope. Green sounds like he expects the world to end any day and it was hard to find more than a tiny flicker of hope anywhere in his essays. I enjoyed the line-by-line writing, but as a whole, it was just too gloomy. (3 stars)


There were a couple of books I abandoned again this month: The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman (it was weirdly anti-Catholic) and The Road Trip by Beth O'Leary (I was bored and I didn't like the audiobook narration). 

As for the rest of the family's reading...

My husband read aloud The Little Lame Prince to the family each night after dinner. In the car, we finished Anne of Green Gables

With my mom, I'm doing a summer reading project with my kids where we pick an author/illustrator/theme each week. I read books during the week, and then my mom reads one over Skype on Saturday. In June, we focused on Roger Duvoisin, Paul Galdone, and Virginia Lee Burton. 

M. (7 years, 7 months) has been reading the second book in the Borrowers series. She has also been reading Thee, Hannah by Marguerite deAngeli aloud to my mother-in-law on Skype.  

C. (5 years, 9 months) finished Little House on the Prairie, and she also read Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nan Hayden Agle and  Ellen Wilson.

After E. (3 years, 8 months) and I finished Winnie-the-Pooh she got interested in Raggedy Anne and listened to some of the stories on audiobook. She also twice asked for the audiobook of The Saturdays at naptime. With her, I've also been reading aloud National Geographic's Little Kids First Big Book of Reptiles and Amphibians. She has also begun sounding out words and she was able to read Rag on her own. 

R. and A. (15 months) get very little scheduled reading time. They are often present for the older kids' read-alouds, and they do love to look at books but we need to work on carving out a time for them to hear more stories.

Up Next For Me 

In July, I plan to pick up where I left off with Jan Karon's Mitford series and listen to Light From Heaven. I've also started reading Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger. I'm supposed to be reading Angle of Repose with a friend as well, but we both keep pushing it off in favor of other books. I'm also hoping to read one of the Marcia Willett books my aunt sent me and to read a couple of other paperbacks from my TBR pile. 

Linking Up

Friday, July 9, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 6/28/21

Morning Read-Alouds

From Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters,  illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018), we read "Insect" by Tony Mitton, "All Day Long" by Kanoko Okamoto, translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi, and "A Hot Day" by A.S.J. Tessimond. 

This week, our picture book theme was America. We read A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution by Betsy and Giulio Maestro and America the Beautiful published by Cottage Door Press, and Grandma read An American ABC by Maud and Miska Petersham during our visit to her house on the weekend.  


We learned to sing "America" from Go In and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook for Young People (The Metropolitian Museum of Art, 1987).  We listened to Appalachian Spring: "Variations on a Shaker Tune" by Aaron Copland, A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Scherzo" by Felix Mendelssohn, Marche Militaire by Franz Schubert, and Piano Sonata No. 11 in A: "Turkish Rondo" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder every day except Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when we were away. We had a sing-along on Sunday with Grandma and Aunt B.


 We studied Angel with an Olive Branch by Hans Memling from the Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing. 

The girls made drawings for all of our New York relatives as well as birthday cards for Aunt B. 


We continued working on Lesson 6, "The Son of God Becomes Man" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism.

Memory Work

E. recited the months of the year, days of the week, four directions, marks of the church, and continents. She continued to practice "Happiness" by A.A. Milne. 

C recited the 50 states, planets, Great Lakes, countries of Europe, the oceans, the books of the Bible, and our address and phone number. She continued practicing "maggie and milly and molly and may" by e.e. cummings. 

M recited the 50 states, the countries of Asia, the books of the Bible, the Kings and Queens of England, and our address and phone number. She continued to practice Oberon's speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare.  


As review, M. read the sections of A Little History of the World  that corresponded to the time periods she learned about this past year.  C. had the week off from history. 


M. and C. did Khan Academy. C. did some work with subtraction without renaming in Singapore.

Reading and Writing

We finished all of our outstanding books before we left for New York: Eleven Kids, One Summer, A Necklace of Raindrops, Baby Island, and Anne of Green Gables. C. and I also read Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, and Phoebe's Revolt by Natalie Babbitt. 

Physical Education

In New York on the weekend, the girls learned to play wiffle ball. They also ran around outside at my grandmother's house. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 6/21/21

Morning Read-Alouds 

From Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters,  illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018), we read: "Puddle" by Nick Toczek, "The Sun Has Long Been Set" by William Wordsworth, "The Pond" by Amy Lowell, "One Two Three Four Five" by Anonymous, and "Where Go the Boats" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Our illustrator this week was Virginia Lee Burton. We read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Choo Choo, The Little House, and The Emperor's New Clothes as well as Big Machines, a picture book biography of Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco. Grandma read Maybelle the Cable Car

We also read the articles from National Geographic Explorer Volume 20, Number 1 (Pathfinder Edition): "Rethinking Spinosaurus" by National Geographic Staff, "The Transformer" by Brenna Maloney, and "Turning Trash into Treasure" by Glen Phelan. 


We listened to Rodeo: "Hoe Down" by Aaron Copland, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg, Orpheus in the Underworld: "Can-Can" by Jacques Offenbach, and the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini. 

 We learned to sing "The Fly and the Bumblebee" from More Songs to Grow On by Beatrice Landeck (Edward B. Marks Music Corporation, 1954). 

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily.


This week's painting was The Two Sisters by Theodore Chasseriau, found in from The Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing. 


We continued working on Lesson 6, "The Son of God Becomes Man" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism. We read about Saints  Aloysius Gonzaga, Thomas More,  and John the Baptist from Picture Book of Saints by Lawrence G. Lovasik (Catholic Book Publishing, 1979).

Memory Work

E. recited the months of the year, days of the week, four directions, marks of the church, and continents. She continued to practice "Happiness" by A.A. Milne. 

C recited the 50 states, planets, Great Lakes, countries of Europe, the oceans, the books of the Bible, and our address and phone number. She continued practicing "maggie and milly and molly and may" by e.e. cummings. 

M recited the 50 states, the countries of Asia, the books of the Bible, the Kings and Queens of England, and our address and phone number. She continued to practice Oberon's speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare.  


In Builders of Old World, M. read:  "The Father of Modern Astronomy," "Magic Glasses," and "The Struggle to Advance Knowledge." This marks the end of her history for curriculum for second grade. 

C. and I finished reading Norse Gods and Giants


In Singapore, M. worked on converting time between hours, minutes, and seconds, and years and months. She started doing some algebra basics in Khan Academy. 

C. worked on addition and subtraction without renaming in Singapore and continued working in Khan Academy. 

Reading and Writing

I started reading aloud Eleven Kids, One Summer by Ann M. Martin at lunch and my husband continued reading A Necklace of Raindrops at dinner. We also continued listening to Anne of Green Gables in the car. M. read Jasmine Green Rescues: A Lamb Called Lucky on the Kindle Fire. With C., I continued reading aloud Baby Island. E. listened to the audiobooks of Raggedy Anne and Andy stories. 

Physical Education

M. and C. went to the splash park with friends on Wednesday. All three girls played on the playground and in the field at the church potluck on Thursday, and they played with friends at the Adventure Playground again on Friday morning. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Book Review: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (2005)

In the 1970s, Debbie, Patty, Hector, Lenny, and Phil are young teens looking ahead to the future. They begin the summer all together, listening to a radio show in a truck belonging to Lenny's father, but soon each is on his or her own path. At the end of the summer, when they all come together again, each one has matured just a bit, moving one step closer to adulthood.

There is nothing I loved more as a kid than books about everyday life. While some readers might complain that the events of this coming-of-age Newbery winner are too mundane, I am utterly content with how perfectly ordinary everything is. I could relate to so many of the thoughts and emotions of the characters, and I appreciated that the story was focused on interior lives rather than external action. I know the theory is that kids don't read books where nothing happens, but I absolutely did, and I know there must be others like me. 

Criss Cross is the perfect summer read for an introspective kid. It has lovely writing, believable characterizations, and though it's set on the '70s, it isn't by any means inaccessible to contemporary readers. It's also the companion a lesser-known but equally well-written novel, All Alone in the Universe. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

2021 Reading Plans: Mid-Year Check-In

This year is half over, and it's time to check in once more on how my reading plans from January have panned out so far. There have been some definite changes in priorities in my reading life since the end of the first quarter of 2021, so this is the perfect time to regroup and change my trajectory if needed.

As of the end of June, in 2021 I have read 95 books: 60 written for an adult audience and 35 children's books. I read the most books in January and June (17), the least in February (13), an equal number (16) in March, April, and May. 

Here's a look at my goals: 

There are two I don't really need to discuss. Goal #1, to stop counting picture books and board books, has been a complete success because I just don't count them anymore. I had considered starting to put them on Goodreads again without including read dates, but I haven't, and it's honestly been fine. Goal #10, to write 1200 words per week, proved not to be feasible almost immediately and is no longer in the plans. 

That leaves 8 goals I am still theoretically working on. 

Goal #2 is to read exactly 200 books, and no more. I have consistently been behind my goal for months now, but not by a lot. Often I'll get to the point where I'm 7 or 8 books behind and then I'll finish a bunch of read-alouds and that will close the gap to 4 or 5 books instead. There is a part of me that really wants to lower the number from 200 to 185, but just as I don't want to be reading to meet a certain number, I also don't want to have to stop reading when I want to in order to avoid surpassing the number. So I've decided to stick with my original goal for another quarter. 

Goal #3 is to read 50 e-books. As of the end of June, I've read 24. That's pretty close to half of the goal amount. I have at least two underway at the moment, too, so I'll soon get past the halfway point. I think I can definitely meet this goal by the end of 2021.

Goal #4 is to cut back on audiobooks. In January, my reasoning for including this goal was that if I wasn't listening to audiobooks, I would have time to read more ebooks and physical books and more time to listen to other things. But it turns out that I don't listen to audiobooks at times when I could be reading physical books, and it also turns out that I have had no problem listening to podcasts when I've felt like it. Giving up audiobooks for Lent was a good sacrifice and I may do it again, but I don't have the need I thought I did to cut back on them all year long. So for the second half of the year, this goal is off the list.

Goal #5 is keep up with Goodreads reviews. I have been doing this, but mostly at the end of the month and not in real time as I finish reading. I do usually get them marked as read right away, but typing out my thoughts doesn't happen until days or weeks later. I wish the app was more reliable. I feel like I would type a lot more of my reviews on my phone if the app didn't do weird glitchy things to me all the time. 

Goal #6 is to write down more quotes from books. I like doing this in theory. I definitely liked doing it as a teen. But it's just not the priority in my reading life right now, and that's not likely to change. In the last few months, as my kids have been busier, I've had to start looking at the amount of time I actually have to devote to bookish things, and then really consider how I want to spend that time. Writing down quotes was fine to do during a pandemic winter when we couldn't go anywhere, but summer playdates are back, and I just don't have time now.

Goal #7 is to host a read-a-thon. I used to want to do this, but I don't think I do anymore. My natural inclination in the past has always been to join a community and then immediately want to become a leader within it. But #bookstagram has not wanted any of my reading challenges, and I just can't imagine they will want a read-a-thon hosted by me either. I may do a few little read-a-thons on my own, but I think hosting a public one is off the table now. 

Goal #8 is read the Bible in a year. I'm still going strong with the Bible in a Year podcast. I'm caught up, and I look forward to it every day.

Goal #9 is to fill in my Literary Listopia journal. In April, I said that sounded like a good summer project, but summer is so much busier than I anticipated! I'm considering taking it to the beach with me on the off-chance there is downtime, but otherwise it might turn out to be a fall project.

And then there are my challenges. I only committed to two this year: the Unread Shelf Project and Modern Mrs. Darcy's design your own challenge. 

The prompts for the Unread Shelf project haven't really worked for me the last couple of months, and it seems like the host of the project isn't really involved anymore, except on her membership site, so my motivation to participate is dwindling. I'm still keeping track of the books I read from own shelves, but for no real purpose. 

I have almost completed all the books I planned to read for my Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge. I chose 12 categories and planned to read 3 books for each. I only have 4 of 36 left to read! One of those is my current audiobook, The Summer Guests by Mary Alice Monroe, which will be my third one narrated by Cassandra Campbell. I also need to read one more book about books, one more book on writing, and one more re-read. If I finish those soon, I may add a few more categories to concentrate on during the rest of the year. 

So that sums up where things stand as I hit the thick of summer reading and look ahead to the end of the year. I'll be back after the holiday weekend with my June reading wrap-up! 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mid-Year Book Freak-out Tag 2021

The year is pretty much half over, so it's time to check in on my reading life and see how things are going. Before I get to my list of goals (which I'll do in a separate post, possibly not until after the fourth of July weekend), I wanted to do a quick survey of the books I've read so far using the prompts from the Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag. This is typically a YouTube tag, but I think it's a good framework for taking stock of my reading so far this year, so I've adapted it to the written format. I also removed a few questions from the list that didn't apply to me. 

Best book you’ve read so far in 2021

I always do a top 25 at the end of the year, because it's so hard to narrow it down, but for this one I'm going to say Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I read this in April, and I truly could not put it down. I have never been so motivated to read such a long book so quickly, and I still think about the characters and setting all the time.  A close second to this book would be Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy. 

Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021

Back in January, I finished Elizabeth Goudge's Eliots trilogy when I read The Heart of the Family. It was a perfect ending to the three-book family saga and I loved looking back and seeing the growth and maturity of each of the characters.  

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

I am waiting not very patiently for my hold on Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid to come in on Libby. I placed a hold on the ebook rather than the audiobook, which is kind of a let-down, but the holds list was shorter and I want to read it this summer.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I don't pay a lot of attention to new releases before they come out, but thanks to the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide, The Guide by Peter Heller is on my radar. It won't be released until the end of August, but it involves a pandemic and is a sequel to The River and I am super excited to see how it is. 

Biggest disappointment

I listened to My Life as a Villainess by Laura Lippman, whose series about private investigator Tess Monaghan I had previously enjoyed and whose To the Power of Three was one of my favorite books of 2091. I disliked her personal essays and worldview so much that I actually decided never to read another book by her again. 

Biggest surprise

I read Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang in January after seeing several rave reviews. I expected it to be a run-of-the-mill quick and easy graphic novel, but it was surprisingly multi-layered and emotional. My kids don't read graphic novels so I typically don't either, but I'm glad I made this exception.  

Favorite new author (debut or new to you)

I really enjoyed K.J. Dell'antonia's debut novel, The Chicken Sisters. It's a story involving family ties, fried chicken, and reality TV, but it's not a frivolous story at all. I'm excited to see what she writes next.

Newest favorite character

I really like Renee Ballard from Michael Connelly's Ballard and Bosch series (which is a spin-off from the long-running Bosch series.)  I especially like her relationship with her grandmother. 

Book that made you cry

Toward the end of People You Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, I unexpectedly started to tear up. It's such a great love story in the same vein as When Harry Met Sally.

Book that made you happy

When I read A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher, I was thrilled not just because the stories were so cozy and uplifting, but also because they inspired me to start writing short stories again myself.  

What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Though I don't have an official TBR, I do have some books on my radar that I definitely still want to read this year. These include: Letters to Myself from the End of the World by Emily Stimpson Chapman, The Dearly Departed by Eleanor Lipman, Two Towns in Provence by M.F.K. Fisher, and The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. 

Here is the original Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 6/14/21

Morning Read-Alouds

From Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters,  illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018), we read: "Mr. Snail" by Celia Warren, "Solitude" by Archibald Lampman, "The Intruder" by James Reeves, "The Moon" by Iain Crichton Smith, and "Cat" by Brian Morse.

This week's author/illustrator for our summer reading project was Paul Galdone. We read: Three Ducks Went Wandering (written by Ron Roy), The Gingerbread Boy, The Teeny-Tiny Woman, George Washington's Breakfast (written by Jean Fritz), and Three Fox Fables, and Grandma read The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse


We listened to The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa, Rhapsody in Blue: "Andante" by George Gershwin, William Tell Overture: "Finale" by Gioachino Rossini, and Symphony No. 5: "First Movement" by Beethoven. We learned to sing My Grandfather's Clock


This week we looked at The Last Supper by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from The Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing. 


We started working on Lesson 6, "The Son of God Becomes Man" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism. We read about Saint Anthony of Padua, whose feast day was June 13. 

Memory Work

E. recited the months of the year, days of the week, four directions, marks of the church, and continents. She continued to practice "Happiness" by A.A. Milne. 

C recited the 50 states, planets, Great Lakes, countries of Europe, the oceans, the books of the Bible, and our address and phone number. She continued practicing "maggie and milly and molly and may" by e.e. cummings. 

M recited the 50 states, the countries of Asia, the books of the Bible, the Kings and Queens of England, and our address and phone number. She continued to practice Oberon's speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare.  


In Builders of the Old World, M. read the sections entitled "From Superstition to Science" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much." She read about Roger Bacon in The Story of Science by Joy Hakim, and she read Blockhead: the Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D'Agnese. She also watched some YouTube videos about Fibonacci, fractals, and the golden ratio. 


M. didn't work on Singapore this week, but C. did some addition and subtraction without renaming. Both girls did Khan Academy.  


M. and C. watched several episodes of Mr. Wizard's World. 

Reading and Writing

M. is still reading The Borrowers. She also started reading Thee, Hannah by Marguerite deAngeli aloud to Gran on Skype. I also read Charlotte's Web aloud to her. She liked it so much, we finished it in just a few days. C. is still reading Little House on the Prairie, and I'm still reading aloud Baby Island to her. I finished reading aloud Winnie-the-Pooh to E. 

At lunch, I finished reading aloud The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright. At dinner, my husband read aloud from A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken. In the car, we're still listening to Anne of Green Gables. 

Physical Education

On Monday, we had a playdate where the girls bounced on a trampoline. On Thursday night, we went to an outdoor potluck at church, where the girls ran around with a ball and played on the playground. 

Favorite New Picture Books, January - June 2021

As the halfway point in the year approaches, I've been taking stock of all the new picture books that have been sent to me for review. Today I want to share a list of the top titles I have received in the first six months of 2021. 

Road Trip by Steve Light (Candlewick, February 2021) has distinctively intricate illustrations that portray a group of animals driving through their woodland community of Whiskers Hollow to Elephant's junk yard where they hope to find a new headlight for Bear's truck. It's hard to write a book about vehicles and tools that doesn't repeat established tropes, but this book is a unique take. The story is simple, but the illustrations provide so much detail to look at that kids can really get lost in them. We have quite a few books by Steve Light on our shelves, and they have been consistently of good quality. Road Trip is no exception. 

Baby Moses in a Basket by Caryn Yacowitz and Julie Downing (Candlewick, March 2021) is a charming retelling of the Biblical story of the infant Moses floating down the river to be discovered by Pharaoh's daughter. In this version, friendly animals protect and assist young Moses in his travels, ensuring his safe arrival at his destination. We read picture book adaptations of Old Testament stories every year during Advent when we have our Jesse tree. My second daughter (C., age 5.5) will also be studying Biblical times in school this coming year, and I plan to use a lot of picture books with her. This one will certainly be included to enrich her learning. I also just recently made the connection that the illustrator of this book is the same artist who created one of our all-time favorite picture books, Lullaby and Goodnight. 

Twenty-One Steps by Jeff Gottesfeld and Matt Tavares (Candlewick, February 2021) highlights the role of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This book, with its beautiful illustrations and poetic writing style, really inspires its readers to appreciate the sacrifices the members of the U.S. Military and their families have made for our freedoms. I want my children to grow up with a sense of gratitude for fallen soldiers, and I want them to have an emotional connection to the observance of Memorial Day. This book is a perfect stepping stone toward that goal.  

In Zee Grows a Tree by Elizabeth Rusch and Will Hillenbrand (Candlewick, March 2021), a Douglas fir tree is planted when Zee is a baby, and she and the tree grow up together. At each stage of Zee's development, the story compares Zee to her tree and also shows how Zee cares for it. Facts about trees are written in the margins of every page, making the book a fun hybrid of fact and fiction. This book is similar in many ways to Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and Barry Root, but I like having both books on our shelves as they complement each other quite well. 

Bruno the Beekeeper by Aneta Františka Holasová (Candlewick, March 2021) looks like a story book, but is actually a nonfiction guide to everything a young reader could ever want to know about bees. The feel of the book is a bit quirky, but I have never seen so much information about any topic packed into a picture book in my life, and the diagrams of bee anatomy and the inside of a hive are just utterly fascinating. This one skews toward a little bit of an older audience; I think upper elementary readers will get the most out of it. 


A Midsummer Night's Dream retold by Georghia Ellinas and Jane Ray (Candlewick, April 2021) is a gorgeously illustrated Shakespeare retelling. It's a little bit disappointing that more lines from the actual play don't make it into the text, but if you're looking for a book to introduce the plot ahead of introducing the Shakespearean language, this is ideal. My oldest daughter (7.5) enjoyed the book because she was learning about Shakespeare in history at the time that it arrived, but my other kids were equally drawn to the fanciful and colorful illustrations. 

How to Apologize by David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka (Candlewick, May 2021) is a fun, kid-friendly explanation of how (and how not) to make a sincere apology. Apologizing is often hard for my kids, and I like having this book on-hand to remind them in a gentle way how to make it right after they've done something wrong.  The examples of the wrong ways to make amends are also pretty funny, especially to the sense of humor of a 5-to-7-year old. 

Let's Play! A Book About Making Friends by Amanda McCardie and Colleen Larmour (Candlewick, May 2021) is another guidebook for kids, this time about meeting new people and developing new friendships. There are quite a few books out there that explore problems in friendships, but this one takes a positive, upbeat attitude and really emphasizes the joys that friendship can bring. 

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca (Atheneum, April 2021) is the only picture book about Covid that I have accepted for review during the pandemic, and that was solely because I love the author. This is very much a snapshot of one person's experience in one place (New York City), but it surprised me by being very child-friendly and not at all political. I think it makes a nice souvenir of sorts that will one day remind us all of how odd of a year 2020 really was. It would also work as part of a community helpers themed story time, but probably only in the very immediate future.

Early One Morning by Mem Fox and Christine Davenier (Beach Lane Books, February 2021)  is a sweet tale for preschoolers about a little boy who goes looking for his breakfast on the farm. As the boy searches, the illustrations make it clear what he is seeking and where he can find it, but the text is careful not to reveal it so that the child reader has the chance to figure it out. This book reminded me a bit of the Minerva Louise books, but less silly. 

The More the Merrier by David Martin and Raissa Figueroa (Candlewick, June 2021) features a group of animals dancing through the forest. Because each animal is built differently, each one has different signature dance moves which he shows off when his turn comes. The message that everyone has something to contribute has been done many times before, but because of the incorporation of movement into the story, this one stands out as a bit different. If I host story time at all this summer, this is one of the books I want to use. 

In Noah's Seal by Layn Marlow (Candlewick, June 2021), a little boy named Noah wants his grandma to take him out on her boat to see seals, but she's not ready to go. Noah makes himself a seal out of sand instead, which he loves, and which breaks his heart when it is washed out to sea. Things turn around, though, with an almost magical surprise ending. This is sort of a summer take on stories that deal with snowmen who melt after the cold weather passes, but this friend disappears when the tide comes in. The atmosphere of the illustrations is perfect for hot summer days, and I'll be reading this one aloud before we head to the beach in August.  

Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua (Simon & Schuster, December 2020) is the sequel to Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao. In this second book, Amy is assigned to create a dragon at school, but instead of following her own creative thoughts about dragons, she tries to conform to her classmates' ideas instead. With help from her family, however, she realizes that the Eastern dragons of her culture are just as interesting and fun to create as Western ones. My kids love Amy Wu, and they are big fans of this book.

Finally, in Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter by Jamie Michalak and Kelly Murphy (Candlewick, June 2021), a mouse named Dakota prowls around the museum at night snatching up tiny objects, which she carries home for a very special reason. After the reader learns where the treasures go, there is an invitation for the reader to go back through the book and look for more hidden objects. This book indulges kids' curiosity about what goes on at places like museums after hours and behind the scenes, and it's also just the right blend of mystery and adventure for the pre-K to grade 2 audience.